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Approved for Release: 2014/09/10 C00863247. 


Charting a Technical Revolution 

An Interview with Former DDS&T 
Albert Wheelon (U) 

Ed Dietel 

Albert "Bud" Wheelon, 1966. (U) 


Wheelon developed 
three new satellite 
systems that formed the 
backbone of the Agency's 
overhead program 
for... decades. Perhaps 

even more 
extraordinary... [he] was 
only 34 when he became 


Ed Dietel served in CIA's Office of 
General Counsel. 


Editor's Note: Albert "Bud" Wheelon 
only worked in CIA for four years, 
first as Director of the Office of Sci- 
entific Intelligence from 1962 to 
1963, and then as Deputy Director 
for Science and Technology 
(DDS&T) from 1963 to 1966. Never- 
theless, his contribution during that 
period was so important to the 
Agency's subsequent development 
that he was named a Trailblazer 
during CIA 's 50 th Anniversary cele- 
bration. Among his other 
accomplishments, Wheelon con- 
ceived and put into development 
three new satellite systems that 
formed the backbone of the 
Agency's overhead program for the 
next several decades. Perhaps even 
more extraordinary is the fact that 
Wheelon was only 34 when he 
became DDS&T. (U//FOUO) 

The son of an aeronautical engi- 
neer, Wheelon grew up in los 
Angeles and earned his B. Sc. from 
Stanford in 1949, and his Ph.D. in 
physics from MIT in 1952 at the age 
of 23- He amazed his professors by 
passing the two-day Ph.D. qualify- 
ing exam soon after arriving at 
MIT, despite the fact that he had not 
taken many of the courses ordi- 
narily needed to prepare a graduate 
student for the grueling exam. 
Wheelon was not without outside 
interests. He first got to know MIT's '. 
influential President, James Kil- 
lian, by working with him to form a 
rugby football club, which is still a 
part of student life there after 
50 years. (U//FOUO) 

In the following interview excerpts, 
Wheelon discusses his early work on 
ICBM guidance s ystem s for the Air 
Force! (b)(1) 

CIA 's role in satellite reconnais- 
sance in the 1960s, and the three 
new overhead systems he set into 
motion while DDS&T. (S//NF) 

Ed Dietel of the CIA History Staffs 
oral history program interviewed 
Dr. Wheelon on 17 October 1998, 
in the latter's home in Santa Bar- 
bara, California. (U//FOUO) 

Shortly after graduating from MIT, 
Wheelon joined the newly created 
Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, a 
high technology firm in Los Angeles 
founded by Simon Ramo and Dean 
Wooldridge. (Ramo-Wooldridge 
merged with Thompson Products in 
1958 and renamed itself TRW in 
1965.) The Air Force's advisory "Tea 
Pot Committee" of prominent scien- 
tists and engineers called for a 
crash program to develop an ICBM 
in 1954, and the Air Force 
responded by creating the Air Force 
Western Development Division 
(WDD) in Inglewood, California, 
under Brig. Gen. Bernard Schriever. 
WDD, in turn, employed Ramo- 
Wooldridge to provide systems engi- 
neering and technical direction for 
the entire project. (U//FOUO) 



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DDS&T Wheelon 

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When I went to work for Ramo- 
Wooldridge, their only job was to 
support the Tea Pot Committee, 
which was chaired by [former AEC 
commissioner and world-renowned 
mathematician] John von Neu- 
mann. It also' included Prof. Clarke 
Millikan of Cal Tech, Ramo and 
Wooldridge, Charles Lindbergh, 
Jimmy Doolittle, [MIT professor 
and, later, Special Assistant to Presi- 
dent Kennedy for Science and 
Technology Jerome] "Jerry" 
Wiesner, and [Hughes Aircraft Gen- 
eral Manager and member of 
President Eisenhower's Scientific 
Advisory Committee Laurence] "Pat" 
Hyland. A breakthrough in the 
H-bomb design had just taken 
place, and so they were chartered 
to rethink the ballistic missile pro- 
gram that would carry such 
weapons. This was von Neumann's 
charge. The committee was all very 
top secret, but it needed some staff 
work done. I was the only one 
available. It was like being the only 
graduate student with 10 full pro- 
fessors, with each one giving me an 
assignment once a day, and then I 
would work all night trying to get 
the answers. It was a lot of fun, and 
I learned a lot. I also got to know 
these people. To be in on that 
activity from the first day was really 
exciting, although I was just out of 
school, and they were all quite 
senior. (U//FOUO) 

Talk about youthful hubris! I 
worked for the Tea Pot Committee 
for about a week, and then got my 
clearance. I asked, "Okay, what's 
the job around here?" Wooldridge 
answered, "We are going to build 
a missile that's going to go 
5,000 miles, and it is going to hit 
within a mile of the target." I was 

so inexperienced and optimistic I 
said, "That's a good idea, let's get 
started." I had no real idea how 
hard it would prove to be. 

I spent nine years working on the 
long-range missile project. It began 
in a clandestine way and was actu- 
ally run out of a former Catholic 
school in Inglewood. Closed by the 
diocese, the school was rented by 
the Air Force, and about 20 of us 
started Atlas, Titan, and Thor pro- 
grams there. Jim Fletcher, who was 
twice the head of NASA, was my 
boss. I worked on guidance sys- 
tems and tried to understand how 
to guide long-range rockets. I made 
some fundamental contributions, 
and I still get requests for the work 
I did during that period. 

There were two main efforts to 
build ballistic missiles, and they 
were competitive. The Army's at 
Huntsville, using the German group 
out of Peenemunde around von 
Braun, and the Air Force effort to 
make long-range rockets under Ben 
Schriever, with Wooldridge and 
Ramo as architectural advisers. The 
factories that built components 
were all over the country for both 
teams, but those were the two cen- 
ters. The Navy later got into the 
business with the submarine- 
launched Polaris, Poseidon, and 
Trident missiles. The Air Force 
long-range missile program was 
centered in Inglewood right by the 
airport. I was one of the foot sol- 
diers in that operation. 
Occasionally, I would brief the von 
Neumann group, because of the 
work I was doing. (U//FOUO) 

First Contact with the CIA (U) 

My connection to the Intelligence 
Community (IC) began in 1957 and 
was the result of improbable coinci- 
dence. We had worked hard since 
November 1953 trying to make our 
missiles work. For several years, it 
had not been going well because 
we had not yet learned how to 
build long-range rockets. Although 
I was far from an executive during 
this time, my visibility was a little 
higher than one might have 
expected. (U//FOUO) 

CIA had been running U-2 mis- 
sions since 1956, but I had no 
inkling of that program. At that 
time, photo interpreters were pri- 
marily converted forestry majors 
from college and had little techni- 
cal experience outside of 
photogrammetry. Someone finally 
went to [DCI Allen] Dulles and 
[DDCI and Air Force General 
Charles] Cabell and said, "Look, we 
are running these incredible risks to 
fly these missions, and yet we are 
not getting much in the way of 
technical information." They argued 
that "We simply must get some 
people who are building our own 
missiles to come in and look at this 
material." Dulles agreed, and they 
formed JAM SESSION in Septem- 
ber 1957, working at the Steuart 
Building, downtown at the old 
National Photographic Interpreta- 
tion Center (NPIC). 1 (U//FOUO) 

1 JAM SESSION invited 26 US experts on 
nuclear and missile technology to Wash- 
ington to work alongside Agency photo in- 
terpreters for three weeks to maximize 
exploitation of U-2 photography on the 
Soviet nuclear and ICBM programs. 



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Schriever's ICBM group on the West 
Coast was asked to send some- 
body. As they always do, they 
selected two fellows who were 
senior but who ran into some sort 
of difficulty on the way to Washing- 
ton. At the last minute, I was 
selected and went to Washington. I 
had no idea what I was getting into 
until somebody handed me a brief- 
ing form for TALENT KEYHOLE 
and other materials. I was sud- 
denly parachuted into the 
wonderful world of NPIC. They 
also gave us access to COMINT and 
the telemetry data, which they did 
not know what to do with either, 
by the way. So it was purely acci- 
dental that I became involved in 
intelligence activities. | (b)(3)(c) 

"Well," I thought, "thank heaven 
the government has the wit and the 
courage to create a U-2 program 
and is willing to run these risks." I 
kind of knew where we were in 
the missile business, and was 
amazed at how far along the Sovi- 
ets were. It looked to me like we 
were in a real horse race. It also 
seemed to me that there was a lot 
of good information that needed 
analysis. A lot of good data was 
being taken, and not much was 
happening to it. Everybody is kind 
of a photo interpreter, and you 
know what it means if you have 
got the background. It is like read- 
ing X-rays. If someone has looked 
at lots of cases of lung cancer, he 
can spot it pretty accurately. My 
sense was that a lot more could be 
done with the telemetry data that 
was being gathered. It was a gold 

I kind of knew where we 
were in the missile 
business, and was 

amazed at how far along 
the Soviets were. It 
looked to me like we 

were in a real horse race. 


mine waiting to be developed, and 
it seemed to me that a real 
contribution could be made in that 
area. (C) 

I thought the people at NPIC and 
CIA were terrific. The dedication 
and the commitment of the career 
intelligence officers were quite 
remarkable. It occurred to me that 
doing intelligence analysis was a lot 
like doing crossword puzzles. It is 
also the closest thing to doing 
physics that I have ever found, 
which is probably why I was 
attracted to it. Let me explain how 
physics is done. You do an experi- 
ment and get a result. You usually 
do not understand it completely. 
You think a little bit and generate 
an explanation for the data. You go 
back and forth between theory and 
experiment to do physics. It 
seemed to me that the intelligence 
business was just the same. You 
have a lot of incomplete experi- 
mental data. One has to work with 
only a small fraction of the puzzle 
pieces and try to establish a 
hypothesis that could explain the 
data at hand. This model usually 
makes other predictions which can 
be compared against other data and 
suggest further collection efforts. 

The intellectual challenge is the 
same as doing science. (U//FOUO). 

The Soviet Missile Telemetry 
Puzzle (U) 

We all worked hard at the Steuart 
building for a month, and then I 
went back to Los Angeles. 
Schriever and Ramo asked me 
about this experience. I responded 
that, "I thought we did some good. 
We lifted up the tent flap and saw 
what was inside. There is a lot 
more that can be done there, but 
that is not our job." But Schriever 
picked up on this. He had been 
part of the U-2 development and 
had a keen interest in reconnais- 
sance. Schriever said, "That was a 
good effort, but we ought to keep 
this going." He arranged to have 
the Air Technical Center at Wright- 
Patterson Air Force Base create an 
intelligence cell at BMD, Ballistic 
Missile Division [as the Air Force's 
Western Development Division was 
now named]. They assigned a 
project officer, a communications 
person, and security guy full time 
to us. Ramo directed me to find 
good people in our organization to 
become cleared. When we started 
working on the data, it was really a 
continuation of JAM ^SESSION on 
the West Coast, and we called it 
WESTWING. We had the U-2 pho- 
tography and some COMINT. One 

(b)(1 ) I 




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DDS&T Wheelon 

(b)(1 )3- > f ten we did not know the 
collection site, but it did not mat- 
t er. W hat w as \ 


Much to its credit, NSA [with the Air 
Force and the Army Assistant Chief 
of Staff for Intelligence] organized a 
community effort to solve this 
problem in 1958, drawing largely 
from nongovernmental groups. This 
led to the establishment of TEBAC 
[Telemetry and Beacon Analysis 
Committee] in I960. It was then 
that I first worked with [future Sec- 
retary of Defense William] Perry. 
Actually, we had been classmates in 
school at Stanford, but we met in 
this business when Bill was at Elec- 
tronic Defense Labs. Future DDS&T 
Carl Duckett was involved down at 
Huntsville and had been part of the 
JAM SESSION operation. This group 
met every three months and pro- 
vided an important clearinghouse 
for n ew results and difficult prob- 

' (b)(1) 


Often we did not know 
the collection site, but it 
did not matter. What was 


community effort, like doing a fam- 
ily crossword puzzle at 
Thanksgiving. Gradually, we got all 

(b)(1 ) 


It was a 

I still had another job at TRW 
designing guidance systems for the 
missile program, and we started the 
Minuteman program in I960. And I 
had a larger hand in that program 
than just guidance. I might add that 
I had no relationship to the 
CORONA [satellite reconnaissance] 
program during this period. I was 
just working on the missile pro- 
grams; only a few people were 
involved in CORONA. (U//FOUO) 

CIA and TRW (U) 

Our relationship with this group at 
Wright Field was not going well for 
several reasons. They felt that our 
work should not be distributed if it 
did not support the Air Force posi- 
tion in USIB [the United States 
Intelligence Board]. They felt that 
our job was to support their policy 
positions and not to do research. 
They refused to circulate work that 
we did that did not agree with their 
official position, whatever it might 
be. (U//FOUO) 

There was an important debate 
going on at th at tim e, as to whether 


| but 

the Air Force position was that it 
was large, perhaps because they 
wanted to build MX. So they sup- 
pressed our results. Finally [Ruben] 
"Rue" Mettler [director of Space 
Technology Laboratories, a Ramo- 
Wooldridge subsidiary] and I and 
Jimmy Doolittle — who was then 
involved — said "We just cannot go 
on like this. We are not here as part 
of a propaganda machine; we are 
here doing serious analysis. Our 
standards and theirs just are not the 
same." TRW withdrew from the 
program, and that was difficult. 
Mettler and I put our important 
relationship with the Air Force on 
the line and lost some friends in 
the process. 


Director of the Office of Scientific 
Intelligence (OSI) Herbert "Pete" 
Scoville and Deputy Director for 
Intelligence (DDI) Robert Amory 
had known of our work and 
stepped in. They said, "We will 



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sponsor your analytic effort as a 
service of common concern for the 
Community." We had to think hard 
about that because our primary 
customer was the Air Force. It 
seemed to us that CIA understood 
what the problem was. They 
offered, "Look, we will publish 
your work, whether it agrees with 
our position or not. We will simply 
fan it out to the Community for 
whatever constructive purpose that 
serves. We will try to get you the 
raw data. All we ask is that you 
have integrity in the research you 
do." That sounded pretty good. It 
was also clear to us that they had a 
good deal more influence in terms 
of getting us data than the Air 
Force had, or were at least pre- 
pared to try a lot harder. So, in the 
summer of I960, we started. This 
effort became Project EARSHOT, an 
OSI project that became a Commu- 
nity asset. (S//NF) 

There was another issue for the 
analytic effort that we had been 
fighting and losing. NSA had been 
collecting data but did not know 
what to do with all the informa- 
tion. We learned that it was sitting 
in a vault at NSA 

Well, Scoville solved this problem 
almost immediately when EAR- 
SHOT began. Pretty soon we could 



photography. It was an exciting 
enterprise and did a lot of good for 
the estimates. (S//NF) 

Joining the CIA (U) 

When Wheelon agreed to join the 
Agency in 1962, he did so with the 
understanding that it would be for 
at least three but not more than 
four years. (U//FOUO) 

I still had a job to do at TRW. I was 
by now director of the Radio Phys- 
ics Lab, but my heart was really in 
this intelligence analysis. When 
Pete Scoville moved up to become 
Deputy Director for Research, he 
and Bob Amory approached me, 
saying "Will you come back and fill 
in for Scoville?" This was in Febru- 
ary 1962, and I thought about it 
hard and finally said, "Okay, I'll do 
it." I had missed World War II and 
Korea. World War II because I was 
too young — 16 when it was over. 
During the Korean War, I was a 
graduate student at MIT. I went 
down at my own expense to Wash- 
ington to volunteer for the Air 
Force. MIT President Killian and 
others in the physics department 
found out about it. They said "This 
country needs nuclear physicists, 
not second lieutenants in the Air 
Force." They called their friends in 
Washington and killed it. They 

were probably right, but I had not . 
served in the military. I thought, . 5 
"Well, it is my time to go." 

I was awfully young — just 33 at the 
time. I was also pretty brash. Peo- 
ple at CIA knew of the work that I 
had done before coming, so they 
were accepting. I believe they were 
also a little concerned that I might 
make unaccustomed demands. A 
mixture of applause and apprehen- 
sion marked my arrival. Others in 
the Directorate of Intelligence were 
very welcoming. Paul Borel [Direc- 
tor, Office of Central Reference] and 
Otto Guthe [Director, Office of 
Research and Reports] and Jack 
Smith [Director, Office of Current 
Intelligence] were saying, "Good, 
got a real scientist around here, a 
real technologist." They saw it as 
strengthening the intellectual capi- 
tal of the Agency. For the people 
within OSI, it was a time of adjust- 
ment. Pete [Scoville] was a 
comfortable person. They knew 
him well and enjoyed a warm rela- 
tionship with him. By contrast, they 
had none with me. So that was dif- 
ferent. Several of them thought they 
might have succeeded Pete. 

The biggest problern^was that I had 
been told that OS^ would go with 
Scoville to the Directorate for 
Research [which was renamed the 
Directorate of Science and Technol- 
ogy in August 1963]- That was my 
understanding when I accepted the 
job. I arrived in Washington to find 
that Ray Cline had replaced Amory 
as DDI and was successfully insist- 
ing that OSI not be moved. I 
suddenly found myself working for 
a man I had never met and, frankly, 




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DDS&T Wheelon 


I did not much care for. I admired 
his intellectual gifts, and he worked 
hard. On the other hand, he felt 
that analysts are fungible and that 
an economist could do just as well 
on a scientific problem as a scien- 
tist. He may havatbeen right, but 
that was not my belief. Had I 
known that this was the situation, I 
certainly would not have joined the 

All of a sudden, I had transported 
my family across the country, taken 
a big pay cut, folded up my house 
in California, and rented a place in 
Washington, and I was working for 
a man who really did not under- 
stand what I was trying to do. 
Instead of working for Scoville, 
who understood perfectly and 
would provide support, I needed to 
persuade a stranger that what I was 
doing was worthwhile. (U//FOUO) 

In addition, OSI was a little edgy 
with a new, young director. There 
was obviously a lot of talent in the 
office, not all of which was being 
used effectively. Future DDI Sayre 
Stevens was a good example. 
When I arrived, I asked him, "What 
are you working on, Sayre?" He 
responded, "Soviet windmills." I 
said, "You must be kidding." He 
said, "No, this is my assignment." I 
said, "Look, there is a real job to be 
done around here. We have to start 
doing it." Future DDS&T Les Dirks 
was a Rhodes Scholar and a MIT- 
educated physicist. He was quite 
.young but obviously talented, and I 
soon found important things for 
him to do. (U//FOUO) 

I went around re-aiming people. 
That irritated some folks, but I felt 
that we had a lot of important 

I went around re-aiming 

people. That irritated 
some folks [at CIA], but I 
, felt that we had a lot of 
important problems to 

problems to solve. I felt that the 
EARSHOT group I had left on the 
West Coast was going pretty well in 
the missile area but that we needed 
to generate similar activities draw- 
ing in national expertise and close- 
couple it with the Agency, rather 
than occasionally interviewing peo- 
ple. I went to the Livermore 
Laboratory of the AEC and set up a 
project to evaluate Soviet and Chi- 
nese nuclear weapons activities. We 
set up a similar nroiect at Sandia. 
(b)(1 ) 

There was a pattern then 

of trying to augment the indige- 
nous CIA capabilities with outside 
expertise. I believe that went okay. 
It seemed to go well and did not 
crowd the old hands in OSI. 

Still, someone from the [Office of] 
the Inspector General (IG) showed 
up to interview me. He said in 
essence, "We have got some 
unhappy campers in OSI. What do 
you have to say?" I responded, 
"Well, I guess you are probably 
right. There is a land shift going on 
here." Inevitably, some people feel 
discomfited, but I was hired to 
accelerate this activity and make it 
more relevant, and OSI under me 
was nowhere as comfortable as it 
had been under Pete. It was also 
doing a lot more intelligence analy- 
sis and doing it better. (U//FOUO) 

The Cuban Missile Crisis (U) 

I worked long hours during my first 
summer at CIA. I was there until 
about 10 p.m. almost every night. 
My wife and kids were still on the 
West Coast, because we could not 
sell our house, and I was living at 
Howard Roman's house while he 
and his family were away. I did not 
have much to do at night, so I 
started reading clandestine reports, 
which I had never seen before. 
Although many were uninteresting 
for our work, I became convinced 
during those summer months that 
something was going on in Cuba. 
There was one report that really 
caught my attention, but the sheer 
number of reports indicating mis- 
sile deployment on the island 
bothered me. (U//FOUO) 

An estimate underway by Sherman 
Kent's Board of National Estimates 
was addressing the question: Will 
the Russians put missiles in Cuba? 
The estimate was clearly coming 
down on the side that they would 
not. That was the signal that Presi- 
dent Kennedy hoped to hear from 
the Agency. DCI John McCone was 
getting married again after losing 
his wife during his first year, and he 
was out of action. He had dis- 
agreed with this approach, but he 
was not around to enforce his 
view. DDCI [and Army Lt. Gen.] 
Marshall Carter was left to deal with 
whatever came up. The estimate 
was rolling forward on this basis. I 
was reading the clandestine reports, 
but I was not central to estimates 
on Soviet intentions. Nonetheless, I 
went to Kent and had a long dis- 
cussion. I said, "Sherm, look, I am 
new around here, so you should 
discount a lot of what I say. I am 


.(b)(3)(c), I 

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not a professional intelligence per- 
son, but it looks to me like the 
evidence is overwhelming that they 
have missiles down there." It was 
late, but we talked for several 
hours. Finally, he said, "I respect 
your view, but this is the way we 
are going." (U//FOUO) 

(bKI) I 

It said that they 

were moving large, trailered loads 
at night. These loads were so long 
that they could not make the cor- 
ners and had to remove the corner 
mailboxes that are used in Cuba 
and other countries. The report said 
that they had to cut the posts down 
to get the trucks around the cor- 
ners. I thought to myself, "People 
do not make that up, it must be 
real." I then concluded, "If he has 
got that part right, he has probably 
got the rest of it right. It looks to 
me like they are putting missiles in 
there." I mentioned my concern to 
Carter, "I think we are heading 
down the wrong track on this esti- 
mate, but I am pretty new around 
here." We actually had a debate in 
the Guided Missiles and Astronau- 
tics Intelligence Committee, where I 
was chairman, but I was alone in 
my view on Cuba. Sidney Graybeal 
was the Agency rep and he argued 
against me, taking Kent's line. He 
said, "Oh, you can't believe those 
clandestine reports anyway." I had 
brought the reports with me. I said, 
"It looks to me like they are put- 
ting in missiles," but everybody 
hooted me down. I said, "Okay, I 
am just the chairman." (S) 

When it was over, McCone invited 
me to his office and said, "You and 


I had brought the reports 
[on Cuba] with me. I said, 
'It looks to me like they 
are putting in missiles,' 
but everybody hooted me 


I were the only ones that got that 
one right. I will tell you how I got 
my answer, if you will tell me how 
you got yours." I told him the story 
I just told you, and he told me his 
version. He explained his view: 
"They put SA-2s in Cuba first to 
keep us from learning about some- 
thing important. The only thing that 
important was nuclear rockets." We 
had quite a conversation at that 
time, and I believe he judged that I 
was prepared to take an unpopu- 
lar position. I believe he liked that 
in me. (U//FOUO) 

Following the missile crisis, another 
fellow from the IG staff came to see 
me. In essence, he was there to 
scold me, saying "How come you 
broke ranks with the DDI and the 
Office of National Estimates? How 
come you went against the grain?" I 
said, "You ought to be glad that 
somebody around here is yelling 
fire when there is a fire going on. 
You have got a nerve coming into 
my office and trying to brace me 
with an organizational loyalty issue. 
Where do you get off?" He was 
stunned, and left. There was the 
fraternal, go along, get along atti- 
tude in many parts of CIA. 

Taking Over the S&T (U) 

Pete Scoville resigned from the 
Agency in 1963- He had become 

frustrated with what he perceived 
was lack of support from DCI 
McCone for his agenda in the Direc- 
torate for Research . In addition to 
impressing McCone during the 
Cuban missile crisis, Wheelon had 
the backing of James Killian and 
Jerome Wiesner. One of Wheelon's 
first acts as DDS&Twas to urge 
McCone to reverse the erosion of 
CIA 's responsibilities for overhead 
systems, which had been losing 
influence since the foundation of 
the National Reconnaissance Office 
in 1961. (U//FOUO) 

I made the following case to 
McCone, "There are a number of 
important things in this Agency. 
Killian and Land have urged you to 
build up the technical capabilities 
of the Agency. Of those activities, 
the most important thing is over- 
head reconnaissance. In my view, 
only that collection technique can 
really answer the tough questions 
we face. We need to do more and 
better reconnaissance. And there is 
a lot more that can and should be 
done. CORONA only scratches the 
surface, and we cannot use the SR- 
71 [the supersonic spyplane, also 
known as the Blackbird] and the 
U-2 over the Soviet Union because 
of the Eisenhower commitment. 
Satellites are not only \the best way, 
they are the only way we are going 
to get those answers." (U//FOUO) 

I expressed my belief that, "The 
Pentagon — not necessarily the Air 
Force — trie Pentagon wants to take 
over this activity. They want the 
Agency out of it. Secretary of 
Defense Robert McNamara has 
made that plain to you. He sees the 
Agency as a hobby shop doing 
some R&D and generating 




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DDS&T Wheelon 


requirements." McNamara 'had told 
McCone that is how he saw the 
Agency role, so there was no dis- 
pute about that. (U//FOUO) 

The Pentagon's, OAvri space pro- 
grams were not going well. They 
had just canceled the ADVENT 
communications satellite program. 
They had also canceled the SAMOS 
reconnaissance satellite program. 
By contrast, CORONA was going 
well, and space was becoming a 
big thing. From McNamara's point 
of view, he was working hard to 
consolidate space activities under 
the Air Force. The other services 
kept saying, "How do you recon- 
cile that edict with CIA programs?" I 
think he saw the CIA role as an 
untidy arrangement. He and 
McCone differed on Vietnam. I also 
believe that McNamara was the 
consummate empire builder. He 
believed in tidy government, and 
found this collaborative arrange- 
ment between the Agency and the 
Air Force as silly. Perhaps it had 
made sense originally, but it no 
longer did, now that he was there 
and doing things properly. Assis- 
tant Secretary of Defense for 
Research and Engineering Eugene 
Fubini aided and abetted that view, 
as did future Secretary of Defense 
Harold Brown. (U//FOUO) 

Back to my conversation with 
McCone. I said, "When you get 
right down to it, the NRO is really a 
post office box for the Air Force. 
The only capability that the NRO 
has is the Air Force, and they in 
turn rely on industry. I know how 
that system works. The question 
before the country is simple: "Do 
we want to go to a sole-source 
arrangement and grant an 

I said [to DCI McCone,] 'I 

believe that strategic 
reconnaissance is even 
more important than 
nuclear weapons right 
now. To turn this thing 
over as an exclusive 
franchise to the weak 
player is a disservice to 
the country.' 

exclusive franchise for reconnais- 
sance to the Air Force? Or do we 
want to have competing activities? 
The fact is that the Air Force has 
done a miserable job with its own 
space programs. SAMOS has been 
an unqualified disaster. By con- 
trast, the Agency's program in this 
area has been an unqualified suc- 
cess." (U//FOUO) 

Then I reminded McCone, "When 
you were head of the AEC, the Air 
Force approached you and said that 
the people at Los Alamos are fight- 
ing the development of 
thermonuclear weapons. We need 
them." So you created Livermore 
out of whole cloth. Lawrence, 
Teller, Herb York, Johnny Foster, 
and Harold Brown got some pluto- 
nium and started designing 
weapons in Pleasanton, California. 
All of a sudden, Los Alamos was 
bringing out new designs, and 
things started to move. I said, "You 
went along with that decision. I 
believe that strategic reconnais- 
sance is even more important than 
nuclear weapons right now. I 
believe that, for the good of the 
country, to turn this thing over as 
an exclusive franchise to the weak 
player is a disservice to the coun- 
try. 'I believe that we should be 

willing to bear the burden of 
untidiness and duplication in the 
government in return for getting 
good reconnaissance. You can 
decide it either way. If you decide 
that you want the benefits of com- 
petition and want to keep the 
Agency in this business, then you 
will have to do things entirely dif- 
ferently. The course that you have 
followed so far has been facilitat- 
ing this drift toward an exclusive 
dependence on the Air Force." 

I did not frame it, "You have to do 
this, if I am going to do that." I 
said, "This is the national policy 
issue." I said, "If you come to the 
belief that the country needs two 
[programs], and you want to keep 
the Agency in, and you are willing 
to commit every bit of your pres- 
tige and energy to that end, then I 
will help you. I believe I can do the 
technical part. But you must reverse 
course and run the risk of sacrific- 
ing your prestige on this altar." 

I believe my argument was also 
that the Air Force inevitably is 
going to come up with other solu- 
tions that are tailored to its needs — 
not national needs. I said, "The Air 
Force cares about the country, but 
they fundamentally have a differ- 
ent job. Therefore, somebody has 
got to worry about what the Presi- 
dent needs before the war starts, 
and that is our job. And we need a 
different mechanism that is tuned 
differently, that is aimed differ- 
ently, that is motivated differently 
to do that job. And the Agency 
three times now has shown it can 
do it— U-2, SR-71, and CORONA. It 
is likely to keep on doing it unless 

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the flame is snuffed out, and we 
are at the eve of snuffing out that 
flame, Mr. McCone. Scoville's resig- 
nation forces that issue on you. 
What role do you want the Agency 
to play? I believe you must make 
up your mind. What is good for the 
country here? I will go along with 
whatever you say." I did not 
threaten to quit; there was none of 
that. But I said, "The most impor- 
tant thing this Directorate can do is 
to support a continuing reconnais- 
sance program. If you do not want 
to do that, then you have to think 
long and hard about what you do 
want the Directorate to do, and 
then we will talk further. But the 
first issue and the one that really 
matters, is, what about reconnais- 
sance? What about reconnaissance, 
Mr. McCone?" (U//FOUO) 

He was persuaded by those words, 
and said, "I will throw myself into 
this battle." His last words at the 
Agency, on the last morning he was 
there at the morning meeting, were, 
"I want to apologize to you folks 
for not having done more to fix the 
NRO problem." I believe that that 
was the burden on his heart as he 
left. (U//FOUO) 

Developing New Overhead 
Systems (U) 

Let's talk about three systems, each 
of which originated in my first six 
months on the job as DDS&T. This 
began in July of 1963. Hughes had 
been working with NASA and DoD 
to put Syncom-II into a stationary, 
geosynchronous orbit. When I read 
on the front page of The Herald 
Tribune that they had succeeded, I 
thought, "This has a lot to do with 

our business. For a first time, we 

~~ (b)(1) 

There were a good many technical 
questions that had to be answered. 
One was the antenna design. 
[Future Associate DDS&T] Lloyd 
Lauderdale gets a lot of the credit 


1 1 will never forget 

the day when they finally came in 
with a model and manually 
cranked it up — the thing actually 
deployed. I said, "Come on, let's go 
up and see McCone." We showed it 
to him, and he agreed to go for- 
ward. (S//NF) 

The second problem posed a far 
more subtle question. If you stand 
on a high place, you will hear 
everything in addition to what you 
are looking for. The question is, 
would the other transmitters that 
we were not interested in swamp 
out what we were interested in? In 


| it was a go/ no go 
question. We gave that job to Bill 
Perry, who had just left EDL to set 
up his own company in Palo Alto. I 
went to Bill, for whom I had a high 
regard, and said, "The key ques- 
tion in this new project is whether 
or not we can do this. Will you 
please go off to one side and work 
with NSA to see what the back- 
ground data look like. Please tell us 
whether we are on the right track? 
There is no point building this sys- 
tem and having it be a flop." After 
about six months, Perry took us 
through it all and the answer was 

yes, we could make it work. On 
that basis we proceeded. 

The second system was generated 
by a need that came out of my 
Cuban missile experience. We 
needed to build a system that could 
provide pictures in near real time. 
On one of my few days off, I was 
watching a professional football 
game from San Francisco. I 
remarked, "If I can watch a foot- 
ball game from San Francisco, we 
can get pictures back from the sat- 
ellite! Technology has come along 
sufficiently to do so." I put Dirks to 
work on that with the mandate "to 
build a near real-time system and 
bring photography into the current 
intelligence arena." (S//NF) 

Dave Packard took it upon himself 
to come around and talk to people 
who were to be involved in the 
project when he was Deputy Secre- 
tary of Defense. He came to see 
me, and he asked me what assur- 
ance could I give him that we 
could do our part. I was able to say 
that we could do our task with con- 
fidence. This depended on building 
a new and much more capable 
traveling wave tube. This program 
was primarily Dirks^s^ success, 
although Duckett and Helms 
deserve much credit for pushing it 
along. (S//NF) 

System number three was a 
CORONA improvement, which is to 
say a new broad-research system. 
CORONA was having some trou- 
bles, and we got [Stanford Professor 
Sidney] Drell and his group to 
come in and take a look. We finally 
solved the problem. (S//NF) 




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DDS&T Wheelon 


Independent of that problem, it 
was clear that the photointerpret- 
ers were having trouble finding 
some facilities in the miles of 70mm 
film that we were bringing back 
[from CORONA^ missions]. I went to 
NPIC head Art Lundahl and I said, 
"Art, what is the problem? Do we 
need to give you better resolu- 
tion?" He said, "I think so." We 
decided to do some experiments. 
We took some high-resolution 
SR-71 pictures and degraded them 
to various levels. We gave these 
pictures to the photointerpreters 
and found out how many times 
they got the right answer as a func- 
tion of what the resolution was. 
They evidently needed something a 
good deal better than CORONA 
was then delivering to make a sig- 
nificant improvement in their 
performance as photointerpreters — 
who I figured were my consumers, 
even though they did not work for 
me. (S//NF) 

Because the Drell panel was then 
meeting, I asked, "How hard can 
we push CORONA by the product 
improvements that we have been 
making?" The same answer came 
back from our own people, from 
Itek [which built the CORONA cam- 
era], and from the Drell group — 
that we had pushed CORONA 
about as far as we could. It has a 
focal length that could not be 
changed. The film is what it is. To 
build a high-resolution search sys- 
tem, we would simply have to start 
over. I believe I talked that over 
with [Polaroid Corporation Presi- 
dent and member of President 
Johnson's Science Advisory Com- 
mittee Edwin] Land, and he 
agreed. 2 1 got chief of the Special 
Projects Staff Jackson Maxey and 

future chief of the Office of Special 
Projects John Crowley involved in 
this. I said, "How do we build a 
search system, same coverage, but 
with a lot better resolution?" 

That began the search for a new 
search system. Our first move was 
to place a contract with Itek, to see 
if they could design a new system. 
They worked under our funding for 
most of 1964, trying to develop a 
follow-on to CORONA that would 
have the improved performance. 

The relationship with Itek was a 
rocky one. One, they were not 
making much headway. Two, Jack 
Maxey was a strong-willed man, 
and I believe he tended to give 
them a good deal more direction 
than they felt they needed. Behind 
the scenes, Fubini had approached 
Itek and said, "Look, CIA is not 
going to build satellite systems any 
more. You are wasting your time. If 
you jump ship with the Agency and 
work with us, we will make sure 
you are the contractor for an Air 
Force-sponsored system like this." 3 

During a meeting of the Land Panel 
of the President's Science Advisory 
Committee, Land was called out of 
the meeting. He came back about a 

2 Land chaired the "Land Panel" of the 
President's Science Advisory Committee. 
The panel had as its responsibility over- 
sight of the country's satellite reconnais- 
sance program. (U//FOUO) 

3 According to NRO's historian, Dr. 

- Wheelon's recollection of events in Itek's 
withdrawal from the NRO/CIA follow-on 
imaging system is not shared by company 
executives, who fault business practices in 
connection with the contract. (U) 

half hour later and said, "I have to 
tell you that Itek no longer wants to 
participate with the Agency on the 
Advanced Search System, they want 
to have the contract terminated and 
cease work." We were dumb- 
founded. It was like the day 
Kennedy was shot; everyone 
remembers where they were. I 
asked Land if they had given any 
reason but he said, "No, not really, 
they just want out." It was not clear 
whether it was a technical problem 
or in the management capability, 
but they wanted out. (U//FOUO) 

[Franklin] "Frank" Lindsay [Itek's 
president], who had once been at 
the Agency, said, "We have got a 
mess here that I need to straighten 
out." So he came down to have 
lunch with McCone and me. 
McCone was a lot rougher than we 
thought. Lindsay gave an explana- 
tion that did not make any sense at 
all. About the best he could say 
was that the working relationship 
had a lot of friction. I had not been 
working with them, so it was not 
an attack on me, but he said the 
people who work for Wheelon 
were tough to get along with. 
McCone did not buy it at all, and 
Lindsay was ushered out of the 
lunch without having his hand 
shaken. (U//FOUO) 

I said, "Mr. McCone, I believe we 
have to take this seriously. It may 
be that, unbeknownst to me, our 
people are heavy-handed. They 
have a lot of other contractors in 
various parts of this. With your per- 
mission, I would like to go around 
and check on them and see if there 
has been any trace of this else- 
where." He said, "I believe that is 
exactly right, you go and check." I 

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started going around to all the con- 
tractors that worked for the Agency. 
I found that, whatever the merits of 
the Itek problem, no one else was 
experiencing it. 

I came back and gave my report, 
and I said, "It looks to me like this 
is an Itek-specific problem." It is 
clear that they had been under a lot 
of pressure. Under Secretary of the 
Air Force and NRO Director Brock- 
way McMillan had made it 
absolutely clear that McNamara did 
not want the Agency developing 
new systems. The only question 
was, had they pulled the trigger or 
had Itek sensed where their best 
interests lay? (U//FOUO) 

Meanwhile, with Itek out of it, the 
need remained. Dirks, Lauderdale, 
and I began to think about it. The 
reason for starting this system was 
not a desire to build a new system 
but to meet a need. We were work- 
ing with Perkin-Elmer at the time 
on the SR-71 camera, and I asked 
them if they had any ideas. They 
said, "Coincidentally, we have an 
invention in the lab, which might 
be of interest to you." So with that, 
we began to work with Perkin- 
Elmer. (S//NF) 

Some Observations on DCI John 
McCone (U) 


John McCone walked in, 
looked around the room 
with those blue eyes and 
said 'Who authorized that 
mission?' I made a quick 
calculation to myself that 
' is as good a day 
as any to quit this outfit.' 


John McCone was an aloof guy. I 
believe he had the finest mind of 
anyone I have ever worked for. He 
was an excellent analyst. He had an 
incredible memory, and was intel- 
lectually tough and honest. Having 
said that, I will tell you that he was 
not a good manager of people. He 
was billed as a manager, but had 
no sense of how to motivate an 
organization. (U//FOUO) 

The U-2 missionQ(b)(1 ) fivas a 
high-priority effort. When they put 
pressure on me to plan it, I had 
counseled McCone and Kennedy 
that it was a long way in, and I was 
not sure we could make it. Air 
Force Brigadier General and Direc- 
tor, Office of Special Activities, Jack 
Ledford and I were at a Christmas 
party at McCone's house on a 
snowy night. McCone dragged us 
into his study to say, "I just want to 
reiterate to you two how important 
this thing is." I responded, "I know 
that, and I want to reiterate to you 
that it is a long way in, and I am 
not sure we are going to make it." 
The Taiwanese U-2 pilot was about 

ready to take off. I had been asleep 
for about three hours, and the 
phone rings. It is the Ops Center in 
OSA [Office of Special Activities], 
and this plane has been shot down 
going in. I joined Ledford and the 
Ops people in our c ontrol center. 


As usual, I went to the morning 
meeting and asked Ledford to come 
with me. John McCone walked in 
and looked around the room with 
those blue eyes of his and said, 
"Who authorized that mission?" I 
made a quick calculation. I said [to 
myself], "Well, today is as good a 
day as any to quit this outfit." I 
responded, "I have a piece of paper 
with your signature, and Mac 
Bundy's, and Bob McNamara's, and 
Dean Rusk's, on it telling me to do 
it." DDCI Carter said, "That's right, 
sir, you ordered that mission." One 
could have heard a pin drop in that 
room. McCone closed his book, got 
up, and left the room. The subject 
was never mentioned again. Do not 
ask me, I cannot explain it. He was 
a great director, but he had a few 
little shortcomings heje and there. 

Most people were scared to death 
of John McCone, but I was not — 
perhaps because I was not trying to 
build a career in CIA. I will tell you 
this story. Helms and I ran a (b)(1 ) 
H operation in Cuba as part 
of the MONGOOSE program to 
destabilize the Castro regime. I was 
involved in it because of some 
technical things we were doing. It 




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DDS&T Wheelon 

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was a mess, with high-speed boats 
firing .50-caliber guns. And one of 
John McCone's J.P. Hendy freight- 
ers sailed right into the middle of 
this. It was shot up by being in the 
wrong place at the wrong time. The 
next day; McGone got Helms and 
me in his office to say, "You guys 
almost sunk my ship yesterday 
down there." I looked at Helms, 
who was senior to me by quite a 
bit, and I thought, "He knows how 
to handle these things." Helms did 
not say a word. So, finally, I said to 
myself, "Well, it is another good 
day to quit." I said, "Mr. McCone, 
you knew that operation was going 
down. A lot of good men got killed 
down there yesterday. It is up to 
you to keep your ship out of the 
way." McCone said, "I guess you 
are right," and that was the end of 
it. (U//FOUO) 

I do not mean to paint myself as a 
hero; it is just that on a number of 
occasions I stood up to McCone on 
a matter of principle. I thought it 
was important, and I believe he 
responded well to that. But I did 
not see anybody else doing it. I 
believe that people more directly 
involved were just intimidated by 
him, his wealth, and the fact that he 
was all business. I was young and 
brash. (U//FOUO) 

On Cooperation (U) 

Why is it that people like [IBM 
physicist and longtime government 
consultant Richard] Garwin, and 
Perry, and I spent so much of our 
life working for the government 
instead of doing science? You learn 
physics like you learn to be a sil- 
versmith: through the apprentice 

process. You cannot read a book 
and become a physicist; you have 
to work with a physicist. Our con- 
tact with our professors was a 
feature in our maturing, in our 
becoming physicists. (U//FOUO) 

Many of the faculty at MIT had 
been deeply involved in World War 
II, and they continued to serve the 
government after the war. They 
were much in demand in Washing- 
ton and were constantly going back 
and forth. Their advice was wanted 
because they were the high priests 
of a new era. They had developed 
a conviction about what govern- 
ment plus science could do 
together. They had a feeling that 
nothing was more important than 
national security. We got all that 
from them during our apprentice- 
ship. We watched them make 
choices on how to spend their 
time, and they always spent it for 
the country. Each one of us came 
away from those relationships feel- 
ing that the country came first. 

Before the war, science was sup- 
ported by private money. The 
Palomar telescope was built with 
private money. The Mount Wilson 
telescopes were built with private 
money. Ernie Lawrence's cyclo- 
trons at Berkeley were built with 
private money. There were no R&D 
contracts, except those that kept a 
couple of airplane companies going 
with development programs. We 
learned that lesson for the first time 
in our country's history. After the 
war, we said, "Look, we have got a 
good thing going here, let's keep it 
going." So the National Science 
Foundation was bom, the Office of 
Naval Research, all the funding at 

Lincoln Laboratory, Los Alamos, 
Livermore, and so on. We said, 
"Look, we have a winning formula 
here of extraordinary technologists 
plus government funding." And it 
really worked. (U//FOUO) 

I believe that game plan has pretty 
well run its course. What started 
out as a fantastic adventure has 
gradually become trench warfare 
involving procurement regulations. 
Grants are becoming just another 
paper translator and doing things 
by the numbers. So I think a lot of 
the excitement has been lost. Men 
of good will and great ability once 
did amazing things together at 
incredible speeds. That does not 
describe the defense industry 
today. Where you do see that today 
is in Silicon Valley and the soft- 
ware firms. They have that kind of 
verve and acceleration, but the gov- 
ernment is not part of that. 

In a way, I believe this golden 
moment of partnership between the 
government and science has grown 
tired. The Agency was always a lit- 
tle different. It worked with Kelly 
Johnson at Lockheed and others in 
the way things had been done dur- 
ing the war. That is why people 
wanted to work with the Agency, 
because it was a carryover from an 
era that had been lost at DoD. 

Reflections on the Agency (U) 

After leaving the Agency, Wheelon 
joined Hughes Aircraft, where he 
eventually became Chairman and 
Chief Executive Officer. He also 
served as a member of the 



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President's Foreign Intelligence 
Advisory Board from 1982 to 1988. 

When you go to work for the 
Agency, you have to admit that you 
are not going to have it all. Never 
have a yacht. You are not going to 
have your own jet. But there is a 
camaraderie and a sense of com- 
mitment and dedication and being 
with other people who are really 
superior to those on the outside. 


I was really spoiled by 
the Agency. Spoiled by its 
integrity. My time at CIA 

was just the best four 
years of my life. 


I was really spoiled by the Agency. 
Spoiled by its integrity. I had a 
good deal of trouble adjusting 
when I left the Agency. Not being 
able to depend on people. Always 
having to recalibrate. My time at 
CIA was just the best four years of 

my life. It was the highlight of my 
life. Not before or since have I had 
that kind of feeling of commitment 
or bonding or confidence in my 
colleagues. I simply never worked 
with such a fine group of men and 
women. (U//FOUO) 




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